What to Do if Your Identity is Stolen
Having your identity stolen can be a scary and overwhelming experience, and it’s happened to more than half of consumers. If you’re in this unfortunate situation, you’re undoubtedly wondering what to do if your identity is stolen, or how to report identity theft.
Thankfully, resources are available to help you take action and prevent further compromises. Among these resources is your local credit union. While you may not immediately associate credit unions and identity theft, it’s likely your local credit union can help restore your personal security, and peace of mind.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone steals another person’s identifying information without authority. Thieves who steal people’s information, like a Social Security number, can use that data to apply for loans and credit cards fraudulently, file taxes, or purchase goods and services. These illegal acts can damage your credit status, and you may have to spend valuable time and money working to restore your good financial standing.
Types of Identity Theft
How can our identity be stolen in the first place? Well, most of us store some level of personal information online. However, in exchange for this convenience, we’re also providing thieves with multiple digital avenues — including social media channels — that they can exploit to steal private data. Additionally, even if you take all of the proper safeguards, the companies we make purchases from can be hacked, and our identities can be stolen through no fault of our own.
Other common identity theft tactics include going through a person’s mail to find sensitive information, like old credit card bills. Or, sending an unsolicited “phishing” email that requests identifying information in exchange for some non-existent product or service.
Here is a breakdown of common types of identity theft:
- Account takeover. The bad actor acquires your credentials and personal information and uses it to take control of your accounts. The criminal might make illegal transactions, transfer money, and perform other unlawful activities. This is one of the most common types of identity theft.
- Credit identity theft. The criminal uses your personal information to open a new line of credit. Or, they use your existing credit card to make illegal transactions.
- Medical identity theft. Also known as “healthcare fraud,” someone steals or uses your personal information to submit fraudulent claims to Medicare and other health insurers.
- Child identity theft. Identity thieves often target children, stealing their Social Security numbers and other information to open fraudulent accounts. These crimes may not be discovered until years later, when, for example, the affected person applies for a credit card or tries to rent an apartment.
- Criminal identity theft. When law enforcement is investigating or arresting someone for a crime, the perpetrator impersonates you, giving officials your stolen information, like name and date of birth.
What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen
It’s natural to be alarmed and scared if your identity is stolen. Knowing that a criminal is targeting you is a vulnerable feeling, especially if you don’t know how to report identity theft. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself, stop the damage, and safeguard against future incidents.
1. Notify financial institutions and/or companies where you know identity fraud occurred
This is a top priority. As soon as you discover your identity is stolen, contact the companies where the fraudulent transaction(s) occurred. By alerting these organizations, they can take the necessary steps to help protect your finances.
Credit unions, for example, can shut down your checking and credit card accounts if they’ve been compromised. They can also provide step-by-step instructions for contacting the appropriate financial, government, and law enforcement agencies to assist you further with your case.
In some cases, if the criminal is impersonating you, you should proactively alert other agencies, like your health insurance company, in case the perpetrator tries to commit healthcare fraud.
2. Contact credit reporting agencies and request a fraud alert
Reaching out to credit reporting agencies provides both immediate and future protections. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are the three major credit bureaus. Request a fraud alert from any one of them, and they should apprise the other two credit bureaus. This critical step notifies any institution that pulls your credit report that your identity is compromised and helps protect your credit score. Typically, the fraud alert stays on your credit report for a year, but you can request to remove it sooner.
You may also want to place a security freeze on your credit report. With this step, the credit bureaus will keep the information private from anyone who requests it, preventing outside party access. This can be critical in cases of child identity theft, where the crime might not surface for years.
3. Review credit reports for mysterious accounts
Keeping abreast of your credit reports is an effective way to protect your identity and check for accounts you didn't open. In addition, by monitoring your information, you can catch signs of identity theft early and help prevent further intrusion into your accounts. And, because credit reports can influence things like your mortgage rates, credit card approvals, and apartment rental requests, ensuring that they're accurate and up to date is essential.
Federal law requires the three consumer credit reporting companies to provide a free credit report annually upon request. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to ask for your credit reports.
4. File a report with the Federal Trade Commission
The Federal Trade Commission is a key resource for identity theft victims. The FTC works with law enforcement agencies to bring cases against individuals for fraud, scams, and other privacy violations. To file a report, go to IdentityTheft.gov, where you can explain your situation and receive a personal recovery plan and step-by-step assistance to implement your plan.
5. Contact your local police
You should also file a report with the local police department and ask for a copy for your records. This provides another layer of protection and an official document that you can use to help resolve the issue, such as detailing how someone stole your identity and committed a crime using your credentials. When you go to your local police office to file the report, bring supporting information like:
- your FTC Identity Theft Report,
- a government-issued ID,
- proof of your address (mortgage payment, utility bill, etc.)
- any other documentation that details the crime
6. Get proactive about identity theft protection
You can enroll in a credit monitoring service as an additional precautionary measure. In some cases, such as when your information is stolen as part of a larger data breach, the impacted institution may offer you complimentary credit monitoring.
A number of companies offer credit monitoring services for a monthly fee, sending you alerts about any possible threats and working with you to help resolve the identity theft issue. You may even find that your local credit union offers free identity monitoring services to its members.
7. Tighten security on all accounts
Chances are, you have a long list of passwords to manage for both professional and personal activities. Unfortunately, it's easy to get complacent about password security. For example, using the same password for multiple sites is a common error.
To safeguard against this threat, review your passwords to ensure they’re secure. Password-generator tools are available to create secure passwords, helping simplify the log-in process and increasing your online security. And whenever possible, you should enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) as part of your online defense. This process requires two or more pieces of information to access a website or application, such as a password and unique code delivered via email or text.
Also, remember to shred documents with personal information, like credit card or ATM receipts. And be sure to store private information like your Social Security number securely.
8. Review card statements for unauthorized charges
Reviewing your credit and debit card information can go a long way in protecting your identity. Regularly scan your financial institution accounts and statements for unauthorized or suspicious charges. If you discover anything fishy, immediately alert your institution and work with them to secure the account, preventing future losses or compromises.
Further Resources on Combating Identity Theft
Check out these additional resources for tips and advice on how to keep your personal information private and protected:
- Stop fraud before it happens. The National Credit Union Administration’s Fraud Prevention Center offers detailed steps on how to prevent and report identity theft.
- Recognize the techniques. The U.S. Department of Justice provides insight into the most common ways identity theft can happen to you and what you can do if you’ve become a victim.
- Lessen the impact. The Identity Theft Resource Center is a non-profit that helps consumers minimize the risk and mitigate the effects of identity theft.
A Strong Line of Identity Defense
Identity thieves continue to develop increasingly sophisticated ways to exploit gaps in information security networks. As a result, it's essential to take precautionary steps to protect your private information and to know what to do if it is compromised.
Credit unions can play an important role in your identity defense, as they offer personalized services that will help keep your money and identity safe. Use our Credit Union Locator Tool to find a credit union near you and learn more about the resources available in the continual fight against identity theft.